A Lee County woman who requested an audience with the Lee County Board of Commissioners after one of its members publicly compared anti-fracking activists to Marxists has been denied, according to public documents.
Lee County Republican Commissioner Kirk D. Smith, he of peanut butter and jelly infamy, wrote a letter to the Sanford Herald (subscription required) on Sept. 23 in which he specifically called out local activist Nancy Bouchard over “Marxism” and “earth-worshiping paganism”:
Ms. [Nancy] Bouchard’s recent letter [Sept. 13 Herald] emulates the class envy of Marxism as her decrying the “rich industrialist” who will “rape the earth.” She concludes by summoning the threat of “extinction” if left to the “human beings.” She further emulates the earth-worshiping paganism of Chief Seattle as if somehow the Native Americans were paragons of virtue when it comes to the environment. She would be very upset to learn of the slash-and-burn farming techniques used by the Iroquois of the north eastern nations.
In the weeks following, several letters appeared rebutting Smith’s volatile language. Smith, however, doubled down in a second letter on Oct. 8. He sarcastically cast the letter as an apology, but instead spoke condescendingly about how his time spent in Europe made him better able to spot communists:
Allow me this opportunity to apologize for my labeling the anti-drilling advocates as anti-corporate, anti-profit, anti-capitalist, eco-Marxists.
I am sincerely apologetic for traveling to communist East Germany, communist East Berlin, the communist nation of the Soviet Union, and spending a week in the communist capital of Moscow.
So if something looks like a duck, sounds like a duck, swims like a duck, walks like a duck, I am pretty sure it is a duck. Oh my apologies, the reader needs to know that my minor is in animal science.
In response to this, Bouchard requested an opportunity to address the board at its Oct. 20 meeting. She essentially planned to ask that Smith be censured:
I ask the Board to require Commissioner Smith to publish an apology to me and the citizens of Lee County in the Sanford Herald (at his expense not in a Letter to the Editor). I also ask the Board to publicly reprimand Commissioner Smith and direct him to … Refrain from derogatory references and stereotyping of people who disagree with him AND to ALWAYS identify himself as a Commissioner when he offers his opinions in any public forum.
In a letter dated Oct. 10, County Attorney Kerry Schmid denied Bouchard’s request, arguing that even though Smith’s comments appeared in a public forum (the Herald’s editorial page), they constituted a “personal matter” between he and Bouchard.
The purpose of a meeting of the Board of Commissioners is to transact public business. While I understand you have concerns, the situation appears to be of a personal matter between you and Mr. Smith. I do not believe bringing a personal matter before the Board of Commissioners is the appropriate avenue in which to address your concerns. Because your agenda request does not concern the transaction of public business, the County Manager, Chairman and I have determined that your request will not be included on the agenda for the Oct. 20 meeting.
After receiving Schmid’s reply, Bouchard was copied a brief email reply from Board Chairman Charlie Parks which said “Thank you Kerry. Looks good to me.”
Bouchard followed the denial with another message indicating that she disagreed with the decision:
Dear Kerry, I completely disagree that the matter involving Commissioner Smith is personal and should be discussed between us. One of many points to refute your reason for denial is obvious that when a public forum is used (newspaper) to defame comments, it is PUBLIC and therefore a PUBLIC Issue. I continue to request ten minutes to address Commissioners on Oct. 20,2014.
County Manager John Crumpton replied to that, even noting that the board’s decision may have been political in nature:
In advance of making our decision, we probably knew that you would not agree. However, the Commissioners meeting is a business meeting of the Board. The Chairman has the authority to set the agenda under County rules. The only way to change the agenda is to get a majority of the Commissioners to agree to place the item on the agenda. We do not believe that a majority of the members will support this being on the agenda. Your objection has been duly noted and I will communicate it to the rest of the Board.
Astonishingly, Bouchard told the Rant in an email that Smith called her at home after the county denied her request. She said that after speaking with him, she was more determined than ever to address the board.
“I will be at the meeting Monday. Smith called and offered me 10 minutes to speak with him (over the telephone). Maybe he will give me 10 minutes on Monday,” she wrote.
Given the board’s 4-3 Republican majority, it doesn’t seem likely that if Bouchard were allowed to speak the commissioners would vote to reprimand Smith (or even be able to stop him from writing letters to the paper or make him identify himself in a certain way). So why not just give Bouchard, who certainly has a right to feel insulted, an opportunity to vent her frustrations about a public official calling her names in a public forum?
Could it be that they just don’t want any negative commentary about Smith, a Republican who isn’t on the ballot this year, and his political affiliation to be among the last issues the current board discusses before Election Day? Other current GOP commissioners with a penchant for name-calling have smartly faded into the background as we approach Election Day. They might understand that you don’t have to be on a ballot to influence an election.
One last thing. Here’s a picture of Kirk about to hang a guy. Be cool, it’s from a movie. Did y’all know Kirk was an extra in Mel Gibson’s The Patriot? Pretty wild.